AfricaNSFThe Research University (TRU)

Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant: Uncovering the First South Asians: The Prehistoric Colonization of Coastal Western India: Indiana University

Jeanne Sept

[email protected]

Under the direction of Dr. Jeanne Sept, Mr. August Costa will collect data for his doctoral dissertation. His research will address the questions: Who were the first South Asians and when did they settle the Indian subcontinent? Such are among the most critical unresolved problems in South Asian anthropology. The aim of this research is to provide an archaeological test of the southern dispersal hypothesis, which suggests that anatomically and behaviorally modern humans Homo sapiens first colonized South Asia via a coastal route from Africa more than 50,000 years ago. The southern dispersal gained popularity in recent years due to genetic studies suggesting an antiquity of up to 70,000 years for some South Asian populations. Direct fossil and archaeological evidence for this scenario, however is currently lacking in South Asia and recent studies have not targeted sites of the appropriate age. In sum, no one has yet tested this migration scenario by searching for dated evidence of modern humans along the South Asian coast. <br/><br/>Mr. Costa will address this issue by reinvestigating known (<125,000 year old) archaeological sites located along the coast of the Saurashtra peninsula in Gujarat, Western India. This setting is one of few places in South Asia where Stone Age sites have been dated. Moreover, Saurashtra is the only place in South Asia where coastal Stone Age sites are known. This study will be accomplished by 1) reevaluating known sites from Saurashtra; 2) surveying Saurashtra, for new coastal sites (>50,000 years old); and 3) assessing artifacts from the area for attributes indicative of modern humans (e.g. symbolism: jewelry and art, technological and economic innovations: complex stone and bone tools, long distance trade). In contrast to other Late Pleistocene populations (e.g. Neanderthals), present day humans' direct ancestors exhibited certain novel behaviors (e.g. artistic expression, complex hunting) which are often apparent from the archaeological record. If the southern dispersal hypothesis is correct, Mr. Costa should find evidence of anomalous behaviors compared to the norms of indigenous pre-modern South Asians which heralds the emergence of our species in the region. <br/><br/>This work will hopefully illuminate the origins of modern people in a nation, which constitutes a geographical missing link to the story of human evolution. If confirmed this research would show that early humans settled India tens of thousands of years before their arrival in Europe and radically alter notions of who the earliest Eurasians were. This study would also have important implications for the peopling of Australia, Southeast Asia and East Asia. This research will help promote meaningful scholarly dialogue and further the role of India in prehistoric studies. The results of this work will raise awareness about the archaeological record of India among Western archaeologists through peer-reviewed publications and presentations of this research at scholarly meetings. Finally, this research will form the foundation of Mr. Costa's future career in Stone Age archaeology by establishing a study area, lab resources and a network of Indian researchers with whom he can continue to work with in the future.

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